Category Archives: Obituary
The late Yevgeny Yevtushenko had an unlikely affinity for cowboy poetry.
Last Saturday, April 1, outside Mandan, North Dakota, the fifty-year-old Shadd Piehl cooked dinner for his family: lasagna, garlic bread, a simple spinach salad. The wind chimes whispered on his porch, the breeze parting the prairie grass and bare elms beyond the barn. With the table set, Piehl called his wife, Marnie, and their three boys to the kitchen. He raised a toast: “To the great Russian poet and witness to our marriage, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.”
As unlikely as it seems, Yevtushenko—the internationally renowned poet, the voice of so many young Soviets crawling out from Stalin’s long shadow, the “angry young man” on the cover of Time in April 1962—cinches their memory of an era. Yevtushenko, who died of cancer Saturday, lived in Oklahoma, where he’d been teaching poetry at the University of Tulsa since 1992. His eulogies trumpet his defense of the Jewish people; they quote from “Babi Yar,” his most recognized poem, composed after his first visit to the unmarked mass grave near Kiev, Ukraine; they boast of the thousands who once flocked to hear him read. But few have mentioned his impact in the world of cowboy poetry, a genre in which Yevtushenko—unlike so many snickering journalists and dismissive academics—appears to have found common ground with Americans.
“He said, I consider myself a Siberian cowboy! He actually said very disparaging things about academic poets in the United States, about how precious they were,” said Hal Cannon, the founding director of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and its host organization, the Western Folklife Center. “So he related to it, and related to the passion of it, the spirit. So I think it was a great experience for him and I think it was also really validating for many cowboy poets.”
Joanne Barkan, Jon R. Friedman, and Michael Walzer March 4, 2015
Colleagues, critics, and obituary writers have described Philip Levine as “poet of the American working class,” “a large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland,” the poet who explored “his gritty Detroit childhood; the soul-numbing factory jobs he held as a youth; Spain, where he lived for some time as an adult; and the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s, a personal passion since he was a boy.” He was both one of American poetry’s “most intense, elegantly strident voices” and “a thoroughbred moral comedian.” In 1968 he was also “among the writers who vowed not to pay taxes until the Vietnam War ended.”
When Phil died, flags flew at half-mast at Fresno State, the university where he taught hundreds of students over more than thirty years—many of them with backgrounds like his own, children of immigrants and the first in their families to attend college. The tribute from Fresno State might have pleased him more than any other.
Phil published twenty volumes of poetry, received every major literary award to be won, and was named poet laureate of the United States for 2011–12. He had a large circle of friends who loved him dearly, including me and my husband Jon Friedman. And to love Phil was, and is, to love Franny Levine, his wife. They were constant companions, and their rapport looked as fresh and joyful after more than sixty years as it must have looked when they met at the University of Iowa in the early 1950s and fell in love.
Geoffrey Hill, a poet regularly hailed as the greatest in the English language, died suddenly on 30 June at the age of 84.
Hill’s wife, the librettist Alice Goodman, announced his death on Twitter. “Please pray for the repose of the soul of my husband, Geoffrey Hill, who died yesterday evening, suddenly, and without pain or dread,” she wrote. Emmanuel College in Cambridge, where Hill was an honorary fellow, confirmed the news.
Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy paid tribute, saying that “he was, in poetry, a saint and a warrior who never gave an inch in his crusade to reach poetic truth. In four words – ‘God is distant, difficult’ – he could suddenly illuminate, like lightning over a landscape.”
Filling the prestigious role of Oxford’s professor of poetry from 2010 until 2015, Hill was knighted for his services to literature in 2012 and was greatly acclaimed by critics and fellow poets. Mercian Hymns, published in 1971, was a collection of prose poems that combined the life of the eighth-century Mercian ruler, King Offa, with memories of Hill’s own childhood in the Midlands. Broken Hierarchies, a collection published in 2013 that assembled 60 years of poetry, was judged by the Times Literary Supplement to be “work of the first importance”.
The son of a village policeman, Hill has said that he was “glad and proud to have been born into the English working class”. He went on to study at Oxford University, where he gained a first in English literature and published his first poems.
In Memory Of Jane Fraser
by Geoffrey Hill
When snow like sheep lay in the fold
And wind went begging at each door,
And the far hills were blue with cold,
And a cloud shroud lay on the moor,
She kept the siege. And every day
We watched her brooding over death
Like a strong bird above its prey.
The room filled with the kettle’s breath.
Damp curtains glued against the pane
Sealed time away. Her body froze
As if to freeze us all, and chain
Creation to a stunned repose.
She died before the world could stir.
In March the ice unloosed the brook
And water ruffled the sun’s hair.
Dead cones upon the alder shook.
Poet, translator and scholar whose Englishness was enriched by international perspectives Charles Tomlinson, who has died aged 88, was a poet, graphic artist, university professor and translator, who made a substantial contribution to English poetry.
Tomlinson was not a Movement poet, not part of Ian Hamilton’s Review, not a “confessional” poet and not in any way a rebellious declamatory poet – his poem “Against Extremity”, for example, is a trenchant defence of the middle ground. The fact that he was not part of any identifiable school meant that he defied easy categorisation.
Tomlinson’s early collections included The Necklace (1955) and Seeing is Believing (1958). The American critic Calvin Bedient described his arrival into the world of post-war poetry: “Into an area crowded with hedonists, mystics, rapturous aesthetes, [he] comes equipped with a chaste eye and a mind intent upon exactitude.”
Tomlinson, despite his interests in American poetry (in particular Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams), was a very English poet who took a philosophical interest in landscape, buildings and topography, describing his writing as having “roots in Wordsworth and Ruskin”.